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Secure Base
Authors: Lynette C. Magaña with Judith A. Myers-Walls and Dee Love

Attachment does not mean that the child always wants to be right next to the caregiver. When a child forms a secure attachment with a parent or other caring adult, she has a secure base. This is like the diving platform in the middle of the lake or the home base that keeps a person safe when playing tag. As long as the child is on the platform or base, she is safe and can rest, but she needs to leave the base to swim or play the game. A securely attached child feels safe exploring her world. She knows that she can return to the person who protects her—her secure base—when she needs to. But she also wants to play the game.

Watch children. You can see how they use the secure base. It is easiest to see when the child is old enough to move around on his own. The child may be sitting with the parent and then roll, crawl, walk, or run away from the parent. He will explore, play, and discover new things about the environment, but often checks back with the parent. He may look back and smile. He might say something to the parent, or hold up something he found or made. If the parent responds, he will go back to exploring. Sometimes he will come back and hug the parent or sit on his lap then go off again.

Even school age children use the parent or other attachment figure as a secure base. These children may not hug the parent or sit on the parent’s lap, but there are other ways to check in. They may want to have times away from the parent, but they want to know that the parent is still there and cares about them.

Some children do not use an adult as a secure base. Those children might feel uncomfortable leaving the adult. They won’t explore the environment. Other children may decide to explore on their own. They might do unsafe things. Without the watchful eye of an adult, they may be at risk for getting into danger.

In childcare settings, you can help children check in with their parents—the secure base. Older children may want to call the parent when they arrive at childcare. They may want to tell mom and dad what happened during the school day. If calling is not possible, you could help children to write notes to give to the parents when they come in. The child may want to plan a special surprise to give the parent. For young children, you might want to ask the parents to leave a picture of themselves at the childcare. Then a child who wants to “check in” with the parent can look at the picture.


Go to:   • Separation anxiety



For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at jmyerswa@purdue.edu

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